A Wet, Soggy and Bitter Ending to Bulldogs’ Roller-Coaster 2013 Season

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The task of defeating a team two years in a row in a bowl game didn’t work out well for the Georgia Bulldogs here on New Year’s Day as the Nebraska Cornhuskers took advantage of two huge Georgia turnovers and then hit on a 99-yard haymaker to topple the Bulldogs 24-19 in a rain-drenched Gator Bowl at EverBank Field.

The Nebraska win, which avenged the Cornhuskers’ 45-31 loss to Georgia in last year’s Capital One Bowl, enabled the Huskers to finish the 2013 slate with a 9-4 record and at the same time, left the Bulldogs saddled with a disappointing 8-5 ledger as they now turn their thoughts to the 2014 season.

On the strength of a 29-yard pass from Hutson Mason to Chris Conley, the Bulldogs wheeled down to the Nebraska 16 in the waning minutes, with still a chance to pull the game out but on a fourth-and-three play with only 31 seconds remaining, Mason’s over the middle pass to senior tight end Arthur Lynch was dropped and the Cornhuskers then went into the victory formation.

“Well, we came close,” said a disappointed Georgia head coach, Mark Richt. “Guys played hard. I’m proud of our team. We’re going to miss our seniors … great guys, guys that really poured their lives into it as well as everyone else. I’m really excited to see what great things those guys will do in the future. Everybody else that’s left is going to get better,” said Richt. “I’m looking forward to a really outstanding 2014.”

Richt was proud of his quarterback’s play in the tough setback as Mason came back from a costly interception to throw for 320 yards and a touchdown in just his second start for Georgia.

“Well, I don’t think anybody wants to go out there and slosh around, have a bunch of rain coming down, all slick, all that kind of thing,” said Richt. “It makes it tougher to execute in the passing game obviously. But I thought Hutson, as time went on and got used to the elements, did a really good job. Hutson’s a great football player, a great person, a great leader for our team. I’ve got a lot of faith how he’ll do in the future as well. Games like this are hard‑fought. I don’t know how many plays were made down the stretch to put us in position to win the game,” Richt added. “I know at crunch time, from what I saw, Hutson really played well.”

“I felt great the whole game,” said Mason. “The first couple of drives, I know we converted some big third downs. I don’t feel I came out slow or anything. I wasn’t perfect, wasn’t perfect at all throughout the game. But I felt like we were doing great things, moving the ball down the field. We just weren’t finishing like we could have, so we lost the game.”

“I just didn’t hang onto that last ball,” said tight end Lynch. “I just turned my head a little too much looking up the field but it’s a testament to Nebraska. They played good defense, tight coverage. It’s just one of those things. You’ve just got to make the play when the opportunity is there and I unfortunately couldn’t make it and we lost the game.”

Lynch didn’t blame the soggy playing conditions for Georgia’s loss. “No matter the conditions at the end of the day we’re Division I athletes, we’re on scholarship and we’ve got to make plays no matter the situation. And unfortunately for myself the plays I needed to make the most, I couldn’t make them.”

“It was a lot of external things out there today,” said junior defensive end Ray Drew, “but we’re not going to put the blame on that. Yes, it was wet and it was hard to get a grip in the ground, plant your feet and redirect and things of that nature. And I think that did somewhat play a factor in the game.

“On that long 99-yard play, I really wasn’t expecting it. Up front, we were expecting more so of a run to get them out of the position they were in,” said Drew. “I’m not sure what they were expecting on the back end and what not but after that play, we came back over to the sideline and talked about what happened and tried to clean it up. Then later on, we came back and made an interception, Shaq Wiggins did, and things started to pick up for us there at the end but it just wasn’t enough time.”

Both teams moved the ball a bit in the opening quarter but couldn’t mount a serious scoring threat. But early in the second, the Bulldogs continued a drive that carried to the Nebraska 10-yard line before an intentional grounding penalty on Mason forced Georgia to settle for a 38-yard field goal by Marshall Morgan. A 19-yard pass from Mason to Todd Gurley was the key gainer on the push. Thus with 10:37 until halftime, the Bulldogs were up, 3-0.

But the Bulldogs’ lead didn’t last long. After the Georgia defense stifled the Cornhuskers and forced a punt, freshman returner Reggie Davis fumbled the wet ball and Nebraska recovered at the Georgia 14. Two plays later, Tommy Armstrong, Jr. passed to Quincy Enunwa for a 5-yard touchdown. Pat Smith’s PAT made it 7-3, Huskers, with 9:05 to go in the second quarter.

After J.J. Green returned the kickoff all the way to the Georgia 48, the Bulldogs came back and used a 37-yard Mason-to-Brendan Douglas pass/run to march to the Cornhuskers’ 11 but again came up short on a third-down pass and got another field goal from Morgan, this time from 28 yards out. With 6:53 until intermission, Nebraska now led by 7-6.

The Cornhuskers then used a pair of Armstrong pass completions to move to the Georgia 29 before then getting a 46-yard field goal by Smith. That increased the Huskers’ lead to 10-6 with just 3:18 to go in the opening half.

The Bulldogs would then get Morgan’s third field goal of the game at the halftime buzzer to make it a 10-9 game at the break. Mason completed five passes on the drive that reached the Nebraska 21 before Georgia again had to call on Morgan, who converted on his second 38-yard attempt.

As the third quarter began, the Cornhuskers would cash in on another Bulldog turnover to convert their second touchdown. After Nebraska defensive back Josh Mitchell picked off a Mason pass at the Georgia 38, the Huskers drove down to a 1-yard scoring plunge by Ameer Abdullah. The Bulldogs appeared to have made a third down stop at the Georgia 11 but Damian Swann was whistled for pass interference, giving Nebraska a first down at the Bulldog 4. Thus, with now 10:08 to go in the third, the Cornhuskers’ advantage was up to 17-9.

And just when it looked as if the Bulldogs would finally cash their first touchdown of the game, another drive fizzled at the Nebraska 13. That brought out Marshall once more and Georgia’s All-SEC kicker responded with his fourth field goal, a 30-yarder that pulled the Bulldogs back to within 17-12 with 6:32 in the third. A 30-yard Mason-to-Gurley pass, in which Gurley broke a tackle just beyond the line of scrimmage, was the big play of this scoring drive.

On the Huskers’ next possession, the Bulldog defense awakened the partisan Georgia crowd by backing the Huskers up at their own 1-yard line. But those same UGA fans turned deathly quiet when, on a third-and-14 play, Armstrong dropped back in his own end zone and uncorked a 99-yard scoring bomb to talented receiver Enunwa, who was running by himself down the left sideline. The stunning reversal increased the Nebraska lead to 24-12 with 4:58 left in the third.

But, at long last, the Bulldogs would finally get into the Cornhuskers’ end zone. After Shaq Wiggins, the freshman cornerback who was beaten on Nebraska’s long scoring pass, redeemed himself a bit by picking off Armstrong at the Huskers’ 39, Georgia went the distance in six snaps … Mason throwing a short pass to a somehow wide-open Gurley and the Bulldog tailback simply trotting in to complete the 25-yard touchdown. Morgan’s kick drew Georgia to within 24-19 with now 14:49 showing in the final period.

There would be no further scoring the rest of the game as the Bulldogs couldn’t convert in that crucial final minute of play. Thus, the Cornhuskers had gained a measure of payback for the 2013 Capital One Bowl loss to Georgia.

“We knew it was going to be hard to throw the ball today,” said offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, “and the best matchups would be with the backs, and we had some success with some backs out of the backfield, with some stuff like that. I have to go back and look at the tape on some of the running game. There late, we got going a little bit, but they were a good defense coming in. They were a good defense when we played them last year. We were just able to hit some big plays last year and this year … I don’t know what the total yards were. We moved the ball well, converted some third downs but we didn’t do it in the red zone and they bowed their necks and kept us out of the end zone,” said Bobo. “But we had two opportunities right there at the end of the game and on fourth down, we don’t convert either one of them.

“Again, with Hutson, I’ve got to look at the tape,” Bobo said. “I thought he did some good things. On a sloppy day, everybody was falling around out there. The ball was wet and I thought he handled it pretty good, gave us a chance to win the ball game there at the end but we didn’t get it done. So we’ve got to go back and look at the tape and figure out what we’ve got to fix going into next year. It’s a learning experience for him, one I’m glad he got, and we’ve got to learn from it. One thing, I thought we protected great today. I thought Hutson got a chance to hold the ball the whole game and throw the ball. They did a nice job covering our guys and sometimes we had to throw it away. But I thought our line played well in pass protection.”

“We played the run good, we played third down well but we didn’t do a good job with sudden change and you can’t give up a 99-yard pass and expect to win the game,” said Bulldogs defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. “We should have had two guys there. It should have been an interception or a knock-down, no excuse. That’s the ball game. You can play your (butt) off in the run game and you can be good on third down but on sudden-change situations you’ve got to make them kick field goals at least 60 to 70 percent of the time and you can’t give up 99-yard touchdowns in Cover 2.”

What Worked

Not a lot to talk about when you’re  the 23-ranked team in the land and a 9-point favorite to win this bowl game but because of the turnovers and failure in the red zone, you don’t get it done against an also up-and-down, unranked team like Nebraska. But the beleaguered Georgia defense, except for that 99-yard touchdown dagger, did acquit itself fairly well by checking the Cornhuskers to 144 yards rushing and 163 passing. And even in the rain, Mason, making his second start for Georgia, passed for those 320 yards and a touchdown on 21-of-39 completions, with one interception.

What Didn’t Work

As mentioned, the fumbled punt, Mason’s one costly interception and Nebraska’s length-of-the-field touchdown pass when the Huskers were backed up against their own goal line … all proved damaging for Georgia’s victory chances on this day. And, also, the Bulldogs having to kick four field goals against only one touchdown scored was instrumental in Georgia coming up five points short against the Cornhuskers.

Top Performers

In addition to Mason, Gurley ran for 86 yards on 21 carries and caught seven passes for 97 yards and the lone touchdown but missed a second-consecutive 1,000-yard rushing mark this season by 11 yards. Lynch, though hurt by his two drops, did corral six passes for 69 yards. And, of course, Morgan was true on all four of his field goal attempts. Freshman outside linebacker Leonard Floyd recorded 7.5 tackles to spark the defensive effort while sophomore outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins and freshman safety Quincy Mauger followed with 6.5 and 6 stops, respectively. Jenkins also recorded the Bulldogs’ lone sack and Wiggins had his pass interception.

Off-Season Workouts and Then Spring Drills

With nearly the entire defensive unit returning intact next season and almost all of the offensive playmakers that completed the season returning as well, expectations are going to be sky high for this Georgia football team next season. But beginning with the off-season drills and then spring practice, the Bulldogs are going to have to get better in every single area – especially overall defense and special teams play – in order to climb back into the SEC championship picture in the fall of 2014.

 

4 comments
MSGADawg
MSGADawg

RxDawg I totally agree! I don't know what exactly our team is missing but I am tired of hearing these excuses like if one play would have went our way. We just need to start bowing up and knocking people in the mouths. Really, I feel like we are the laughing stock of the SEC. We could and should have beaten that team by 14+ points. I hope our guys come out working strong and hard in the offseason and play with a chip on their shoulder.

RxDawg
RxDawg

After the first punt, I just KNEW we were going to fumble one. I could feel it coming. Our team is missing something. I don't know what, but something just isn't there. Will it be in 2014? Sigh, I duno. I'm feeling a tad apathetic. This season has worn me out emotionally has a fan. I'm glad to see 2013 behind us.

Lakedawg
Lakedawg

Agree RX and know the players and coaches are glad to rid unlucky 13.